U of I, former law school professor agree on $750,000 settlement

(UPDATED, 2:45 p.m., with comment from Sanders.)

The University of Idaho and a former law professor have reached a $750,000 settlement, resolving a race and gender discrimination lawsuit.

The settlement was finalized in U.S. District Court earlier this week.

Shaakirrah Sanders

Shaakirrah Sanders joined the U of I’s law school faculty in 2011, and in 2018, she was the first African-American descendant of slaves to become a full law school professor at the university.

But in June 2019, she sued the university, saying she was “subjected to insulting, humiliating and/or discriminatory conduct related to her gender or race.” She also said she was subject to workplace discrimination — such as changes in teaching assignments, a delay in her sabbatical, and a focus on negative student reviews, as opposed to positive reviews.

“The university acted with deliberate indifference toward its obligation to make employment decisions including promotions without regard to race and/or gender,” the lawsuit stated.

The U of I and former law school deans Mark Adams and Jerrold Long denied all wrongdoing. The case went to trial in October 2022, but a jury could not reach a verdict.

But this week, both parties agreed on a joint statement, filed with the federal court: “The parties have agreed the best path forward is a resolution that allows an end to this litigation.”

The settlement also calls for the U of I to develop a policy prohibiting the video or audio recording of faculty, staff or students without prior consent.

In a news release, Sanders said she pursued a lawsuit to create a record of her experiences at the U of I.

During my tenure, I taught in a law school building that depicted the lynching of Native Americans while the college declined to investigate and failed to adequately address multiple reports of gender and racially derogatory behavior at the law school,” Sanders said. “With this settlement I have the space for peace, healing, and restoration.” 

The university issued its own statement Thursday: “For the University of Idaho, this settlement is a business decision and in the best interest of our students, the university and the state of Idaho. Litigation costs money and time as well as creates the potential for ongoing distraction to employees and students. We wish Professor Sanders the best in her future endeavors.”

Sanders left the U of I in July for a professor and associate’s dean position at Penn State Dickinson Law.

The $750,000 includes damages, attorney’s fees and $44,736 to cover disputed and denied wages.

While the settlement became final this week — with an order U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill signed Wednesday — the details have been in the works for some time. And it appears that the settlement already has the blessing of the State Board of Education, which serves as the U of I’s board of regents.

In an Aug. 4 court filing, attorneys for the defendants said the parties had reached “an agreement in principle” on a settlement, and they said the State Board would meet no later than Aug. 23 to consider the agreement.

After meeting in a closed-door executive session on Aug. 23, the board publicly agreed to a settlement involving an unidentified former U of I employee. No details were discussed in open session, but under State Board policy, the board must approve any settlements exceeding $200,000.

State Board spokesman Mike Keckler said he could not confirm that the Aug. 23 settlement involved Sanders.

More about the settlement from Laura Guido of the Idaho Press.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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